Stroecker and Lee at the 2008 Midnight Sun Game

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Legendary pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee pitched for the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks in 1966 and 1967 out of the University of Southern California.  During his stay in Fairbanks during those seasons Lee became friendly with all members of the baseball organization including Bill Stroecker, who was the club president at the time.

In 1967, Bill started the annual solstice baseball game known as the “Midnight Sun Game”.  During that contest, which at the time saw the largest attendance for a sporting event in Alaskan history, Lee faced off against the Japanese Kumagai-Gumi club.  Through a series of defensive miscues, Bill and the Goldpanners lost the game.

1967 Midnight Sun Game

The following year Lee signed with the Boston Red Sox and began what became a legendary career in Major League Baseball.  Included during that stretch was a MLB World Series appearance in 1975, during which he was the starting pitcher in the decisive seventh game against the Cincinnati Reds.

After leaving the major leagues, Bill Lee continued pitching in amateur games and always sought to get another crack at the Midnight Sun Game.  Accordingly, he returned to Fairbanks in 2008 to pitch in the 103rd solstice contest.

During his stay in Fairbanks during the summer of 2008, Lee was able to reconnect with many old friends including Bill Stroecker.

Stroecker, who 42 years later was still the club president, was on hand during a team reception for Bill Lee on the day prior to the big game.  It was at this time that Lee and Stroecker were able to rekindle their friendship from so long ago.

On the day of the game Stroecker performed a pregame concert with his three-piece band, The Frigid Aires.   Following the concert, Lee started and eventually won the game, defeating the California Running Birds by a score of 10 to 4.  His start lasted over six innings, and only a miraculous double play in the fifth inning preserved his victory prior to being replaced by a relief pitcher.

After the conclusion of the game, Lee and Stroecker shared congratulations with each other, basking in the still brilliant light of the Fairbanks summer solstice.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.